Feature Article - February 2017
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Workout 2017

Making Americans Fit Again

By Rick Dandes

This trend started during the economic recession and through some extraordinary marketing, clubs have continued to package and repackage body weight training, Thompson said. "It is low cost to deliver and can be used with any population, from kids to adults, from mom-and-pop storefronts to mega-boxes—and any location, including high schools and recreation centers."

Group exercise programs also continue to hold their own, trend-wise. These types of fitness regimens saw a surge of popularity in the past, but were replaced by personal trainers working with individuals. But now, Thompson said, "We're seeing a comeback in this type of program. Groups are typically less than 20 people, guided by one instructor. Recreation centers can easily do this with current personnel. High schools might want to recruit from their teachers, who have many talents besides teaching during the day, or partner with a local gym that might have someone interested in part-time work."

Group fitness is excellent as it incorporates a social element, Thompson noted. As you attend classes, you get more familiar with the other people in the workout group, which can be motivating for some. Some people really enjoy the community of these classes.

"We have, right now, a kind of perfect storm," Thompson said. "Fitness gurus have packaged and repackaged these forms of exercise so much so that it is still a popular form of exercise.

High on the ACSM list of trending fitness programs is high intensity interval training, or HIIT.

Also high on the ACSM list of trending fitness programs is high intensity interval training, or HIIT, which involves short bursts of activity followed by a short period of rest or recovery. These exercise programs are usually performed in less than 30 minutes.

"I had predicted that private interval training was probably not going to be around for a long time, mostly because there is at least a potential with HIIT for increased injury rate," Thompson said. "We haven't seen the data on that yet, but I like to compare it to driving a car on the interstate. You can drive at 90 mph, and that would be high intensity; or you could go the speed limit, which would be moderate intensity. And there's a greater likelihood of having an accident at 90 mph versus the speed limit. The same kind of thing occurs with high-intensity interval training. It first appeared four to five years ago and is still very popular in clubs, but in terms of our survey it has dropped to the No. 3 trend going into 2017."

No doubt, HIIT is still trendy, Thompson said. "But my prediction is that in another five years we won't even be talking about high intensity training. It has seen a bit of a decrease in the trendiness, I believe."

One surprising thing Thompson said he observed in 2016 was the re-emergence of group training. "Group personal training was trending a few years ago with the recession, but group training as in large groups of 20 to 25, was not. Until now. It's all changing rapidly. Large exercise classes doing the same form of exercise has regained popularity, and it is an interesting phenomenon. It harkens back to the 1970s or '80s, when Richard Simmons had a hundred people doing a group exercise." Thomson said. "We are starting to see the re-emergence of that."

Thompson theorizes that the popularity of larger exercise groups may have something to do with marketing. "It's a low-cost delivery model, just as body-weight training is low-cost," he said. "You put 25 people in a room and give them a significant discount off a personal training session, and all of a sudden it has a multiplier effect. It is great for business. It is good for the consumer. … We'll have to see what happens with group training."

Interestingly, he continued, one of the most popular forms of group exercise of about four years ago, Zumba, has completely lost its national and international popularity. "At least that's how we see it, according to our interviewers in the field," Thompson said.

"That is not to say that on the east coast in Florida and some clubs in New York City or elsewhere you won't see any Zumba classes," Thompson added, "but it certainly is not as popular as it used to be. Our survey showed Zumba losing its popularity."

Boot Camp

Rising in popularity is the broad category of boot-camp-like programs.

"Equipment-less indoor and outdoor boot camps continue to appear on many club schedules," noted Lawrence Biscontini, health and fitness expert for ACE. "Among the reasons they attract so many participants are their ease of setup, ability to accommodate various fitness levels and constantly changing exercises, which increase the fun and reduce the likelihood of boredom."

Once an exclusive club reserved for military recruits, the growing numbers of average folks signing up for military-style boot camp programs provides a wide range of business opportunities for savvy and creative trainers everywhere. The beauty of putting on boot camp classes is that they offer tremendous variety, added Marion Webb, ACE personal training expert.